Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"How To Survive a Plague"

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the medical establishment realizing that a new and virulent killer was in our midst. Back in 1981, HIV/AIDS was not yet understood, nor even accurately named. It would be years before scientists and doctors understood what they were dealing with, or could name it correctly, much less treat it; but back then they recognized that the disease killing a small number of gay men seemed to be something new and dangerous. Now, thirty years later, millions of lives around the world have been lost to the disease; millions more people live with the virus in their systems, and while expensive treatment seems to have greatly reduced its mortal danger, HIV/AIDS remains without an actual cure. I remember 1981 like it was yesterday. I remember the faces no longer here. I remember the fear that gripped us as AIDS spread.

"How To Survive a Plague" is the name of an exciting new documentary film being created by David France, a journalist, activist, and now filmmaker with thirty years of experience bearing media witness to the AIDS years. (He's also a dear friend referred to obliquely throughout this blog; our friendship began that same 1981, the year we both moved to New York City from the Midwest.)

Still in production, "How To Survive a Plague" uses archival footage and modern interviews to tell a truly miraculous story. It tells how a small group of activists not only waged a political struggle around the disease and its disregard by American political authorities, but more than that also: How they resolved to help themselves survive by pushing the scientific edge, leading an unfocused and uncaring scientific establishment to the medical breakthroughs that since the early 1990s have saved so many lives. The film reveals how central and crucial the activism of the gay community and people with AIDS themselves was to transforming HIV from an automatic death sentence to something that could be survived. The state of AIDS/HIV today is shown to be the result not of medical or scientific luck, but the result of the determination to survive of people the U.S. government considered entirely expandable.

A trailer for the film is not yet public; when one is available I will post it here. I can tell you what I have been privileged to see privately is absolutely stunning: it's moving and simply beyond inspiring. You can "like" the film's facebook page for updates and more information.


  1. Hard to believe that it has been that long - thirty years! I would like to see this film, hope it plays in my area or available elsewhere. Keep us posted, thanks.

  2. He doesn't yet have a distribution deal for the film but he's been succesfully getting serious financial & production backing. I think he's aiming for release sometime next year. It should be a big deal.